Wednesday, October 6, 2010

REVIEW: The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer

The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. Published 2010 by Knopf. Literary Fiction.

The Invisible Bridge is an extraordinary, detailed and moving novel about World War II and the Holocaust, a Holocaust novel in which the Holocaust itself barely figures. Author Julie Orringer tells the story of Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jew whose journey through the Europe of the first half of the 20th century takes him from Budapest to Paris and back by way of Ukraine and the killing fields and labor camps of war. It's a story about an unlikely passion, a friendship that lasts a lifetime, the saving grace of family and the power of love.

Andras is a talented but poor student who travels to France to study architecture; he falls in with the Hungarian émigré community where he meets the entrancing and enigmatic Klara, a ballerina hiding a secret which will haunt and eventually ruin her family. But in Paris his life is full, with his lover, his studies and his friends Ben Yakov and Polaner. Klara, his friends and his two brothers Tibor and Matyas form the nucleus of Andras's days; then, little by little, things fall apart. Antisemitism eats away at their life in France and Andras and his circle disperse to fates known and unknown illustrating the different paths that lead in and out of war. Sometimes it seems they will never find their way out.

Reading The Invisible Bridge, I never quite had the feeling that these people were safe, or believed entirely that they weren't; just like in real life, anything could happen to them. Just when things looked up, or the book looked like it was going to be one kind of narrative, something would pull the rug out and Orringer would surprise me; when I thought all hope was lost, I still turned the pages breathlessly. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional and grow and change through their various and often harrowing circumstances in believable ways. Orringer has created a richly detailed universe but writes with such assurance that I never felt like I was reading research, or even fiction- I felt like I was reading real life.

I would say that The Invisible Bridge is required reading for anyone with a serious interest in World War II fiction and highly recommended for other readers of literary fiction. The book covers the Hungarian experience of the war and manages to evoke the horror of the Holocaust but as a spectre that always remains just offstage; part of the novel's power lies in the fact that we as readers know what could happen to these people, what could waiting just around the corner, and we wonder if and when they will get there or if by some miracle they'll escape. There were many times over the course of this 500+ page novel when I teared up, many surprises good and bad. It's a wonderful, engrossing novel about a very particular experience of war and at the same time, it's a wonderful universal story about people- people in love, people in unimaginable circumstances and people living life everyday. It's just a great book.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.